Producers talk sex and sensuality on House of the Dragon

The first season of House of the Dragon was notable for a lot of reasons: people loved the dragons, people loved the political gamesmanship, the blonde wigs are fun to look at, etc. But one of the big draws were the relationships. The show has several fascinating ones, chief among them the long-simmering romance between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her uncle Daemon, played by Matt Smith.

Right from the jump, we’re in transgressive territory. And things got especially wild in Episode 4, “King of the Narrow Sea,” when Daemon took his niece — his teenaged niece, then played by Milly Alcock — to a brothel where people were doing what comes naturally in the open air.

“I’ve seen how sex scenes would be shot on ‘Game of Thrones’ and I knew I didn’t want to do that,” director Claire Kilner told Variety. “The first thing I said to [showrunner Miguel Sapochnik] when I got the brothel scene was, ‘This reminds me of an experience I had when I was about 22 and working as a stage manager in theater and another stage manager — he was gay — took me to a dance club in Berlin. Basically people were having sex left, right and center. And I never forgot that. I remembered the air was thick with sex. [Showrunner Ryan Condal] and Miguel really let me run with that. So I was just doing my job, but when I received all of these comments from women and men – but to be honest, mainly women – about how this thing had landed for them, it just made me so happy.”

The intimacy of Rhaenrya and Daemon’s marriage is “sexier than sex”

Daemon and Rhaenyra don’t get very far in that instance. It isn’t until later, after Rhaenyra has grown up and is now played by as an adult by Emma D’Arcy — that they consummate their weird, years-long affection for each other.

We finally see them as a settled couple with children in Episode 8, “The Lord of the Tides,” directed by Geeta Vasant Patel. “When two people have fought so long to be together, there is a sensuality, there is a honeymoon period,” Patel said. “It’s almost sexier than sex, you know, to just love each other so much and to be so excited to be near each other. And then Matt put his hand on her baby bump, and in every take, there was something beautiful. I think that quality of our show, just the realism of relationships, is more sensual than sex.”

But the relationship is far from perfect. In the season finale, after Rhaenyra and Daemon receive word that King Viserys I Targaryen — Rhaenyra’s father and Daemon’s brother — has died, there’s a frightening scene where Daemon puts his hands around his wife’s throat. He lets go, but it’s very obvious that these two have major issues.

“We were aware we’d need to have a really intimate understanding of what instigates that violence and what it means for them,” Emma D’Arcy said. “What happens in that scene is both parties receive a message from beyond the grave from the lost loved one. When Rhaynera sees that Daemon knows nothing of the prophecy, she finally gets the answer to the question she asked her father throughout the series: Explain the inconsistency of you choosing me to unite the realm, when by doing so, you’ve divided it. She finally gets the answer when she discovers that Daemon was never trusted with the information. Simultaneously, Daemon gets shafted from beyond the grave and he’s a sensitive person who becomes violent when that sensitivity is made visible. Maybe for the first time, it forces Rhaynera to be slightly more practical and pragmatic about the asset that she has in Daemon.”

Harwin Strong is “one of the more unambiguous characters” on House of the Dragon

Before she got with Daemon, Rhaenyra spent years in a discreet relationship with Harwin Strong, who was the secret father of her first three children. Rhaenrya had run into Harwin a few times as a young woman, most notable in Episode 5, “We Light The Way,” when he dragger her away from a dangerous fracas.

“When we first did it, it was a bit of a classic thing — a man putting a woman over his shoulder and carrying her, and myself and Milly were a bit worried. ‘Ah, what does that mean?’” said director Claire Kilner. “But then we thought, he is saving her, and she needs to be saved and he’s a strong, big guy! And what Milly did, which was beautiful, was sort of kicking and trying to get down at the same time as he was carrying her. I think that struck a good balance in terms of women and agency and not getting too stuck in the old societal norms.”

Ultimately, we didn’t get to know Harwin well before he died, burned alive by his younger brother at the end of Episode 6. “He’s one of the more unambiguous characters, he’s just a good dude,” said producer Sara Hess. “You don’t see him off doing morally questionable things, which almost everybody else is doing. They’re so flawed and human and messy. He was able to be a paragon of decency and generosity and handsome strength. He’s one of the guys you could just love and feel great about loving and then he’s ripped from you too soon, before he does anything that could fuck that up for you. He’s our perfect angel.”

The folks who survived the first season of House of the Dragon will be back for more sometime in 2024.

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